The possibility of an ‘Alliance of Civilisations’ is emerging as a central theme in international deliberations on how to counter a sense of increasing distancing, alienation and lack of understanding between Islamic and Western societies.
In broad terms, the Alliance would function as a coalition against extremist forces, advance mutual respect for religious beliefs and traditions, and reaffirm the growing economic, social and political interdependence across these societies.
The UN Secretary-General recently formed a High-level Group that is expected to draft a report on how to best form such an Alliance, and what may be the more precise focus and terms of cooperation among its partners. The undertakings of the Group have just begun.
Thus, several outstanding issues remain unsettled. One of those is the role and meaning of human rights in the formation and governance of the future Alliance. How will its members perceive human rights? Will human rights be seen as a building block or obstacle in its formation?
Do some of the supporters of the idea of an Alliance (especially those with poor human rights records) view the initiative as a window of opportunity to renegotiate some of the international human rights principles by which international institutions are now evaluating their performance and conditioning their assistance?